Earl Thomas relentlessly watches the quarterback's eyes. It's neither wholly good nor wholly bad, but it's a trait and for Thomas, it's definitive. He reads the play through the quarterback. He positions himself based on the quarterback's motion and vision. That means he makes plays on the ball. That also means Thomas is susceptible to misdirection. Eyes and passes move faster than even the fastest safety.
Thomas is not the fastest safety. His speed might be an asset, but it's certainly not special. Thomas ran a 4.37 at the Longhorns pro day before pulling his hamstring, but pro days are designed to create artificially inflated measurements. Thomas ranged from 4.44 to 4.53 at the Combine and his official time was not rated among the top performers. That's how he looks to me, very quick, somewhat fast but not a burner.
Nor is Thomas the biggest or most explosive safety. He played at 195 and looks small. His arms are 31 ¼", which is adequate for a safety, but, again, not stand out. He's pretty short, his frame is on the small side and he looks a lot more like a corner than a traditional safety.
It's good to know this stuff because it helps us understand Thomas as an athlete. It gives us some meaningful parameters. He's not big, he's not exceptionally fast and he's not strong.
In that way, comparisons to Eric Berry seem false. Thomas is not the raw talent Berry is. That doesn't mean Berry will be the better player, but Seahawks fans who thought the best tackle and best safety prospect fell to them are probably mistaken. No matter how I squint, and no matter how many interceptions Thomas caught against the Cody Hawkins or Trevor Vittatoes of world, he looks no more like Eric Berry than Bryan Bulaga looks like Trent Williams.
Since I'm getting all the garbage out of the way, Thomas isn't a particularly sound tackler, either. He doesn't always take good angles. He doesn't wrap particularly well. Mike Mayock said something to the effect that in the modern NFL, he would trade some run-stopping for some cover ability, but tackling matters in pass coverage too. A safety must be able to secure, because by definition he is often the last line of defense. It's going to happen. Thomas is going to botch tackles. He's small, he struggled with it in college and pros are bigger, stronger, faster and more evasive.
His ball skills are rare among the rare. His hidden athleticism, that unrecorded by jumps and sprints and arcane drills, but proven through coordination and change of direction and running across the field, closing on the ball carrier and, at near full speed, gripping and ripping a fumble, is exceptional. Thomas runs at angles without losing speed and that makes his field speed, his range, excellent. He has good footwork and loose hips and can shadow in man coverage like a corner, high-point like Pro Bowler and find the ball, track its path and make a play like an All-Pro. He's dangerous.
There's two basic types of interceptions and both matter. There's jump ball interceptions like after a tip, a bad read or when a quarterback is hit. These interceptions take a little awareness and a little luck and more the latter than the former, but that's football. You're never going to get the same opportunity, so a career is made out of doing what you can when you can.
The second could be Earl Thomas's superpower, could be what ties Thomas to all-time greats like Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. He excels at transitioning from defender to receiver when the ball is in flight. Thomas tracks and times passes and can undercut routes. He is skillful in traffic and high points passes. Thomas doesn't just intercept mistake passes. He can intercept seemingly any and every pass he's close to. He plays the pass like it's his, because it is his, and Thomas knows it from the snap through the drop back to the read through the pass to the pick.